1st XV
1st XV have tough win 36-28 at home to Bruff
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1st XV win at Ballina 1st XV 33-19

.INSTONIANS BEAT BALLINA 33 – 19 WITH A BONUS POINT IN ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIV 2C

On Saturday 29 October 2022 Instonians travelled to Ballina looking to continue their winning form and maintain their position at the top of AIL 2C. Of all the teams in this division Ballina was the one Instonians were most looking forward to visiting again following our return to the AIL. This was due to the great history between the clubs and particularly the Golden Oldies games between the clubs over the years. We expected a warm welcome and were not disappointed at a super pre match lunch hosted by President Tommy Cooke where club legend Gerry O’Donnell recounted many stories of great times over the years between the 2 clubs.

Instonians were aware that despite the fact that Ballina had lost their first 3 games in the league, they had some narrow defeats and had an enthusiastic young side including 3 Ireland U19 players so we expected a tough encounter on the perfect 4G pitch.

14:30 – Instonians kicked off in dry conditions with very little wind, perfect for running rugby. From the kick off deep into Ballina’s 22 they ran the ball back and as Daniel Keane went in for the 1st tackle of the game he unfortunately and accidentally caught the knee of the Ballina player and went off for an HIA which he did not pass. We wish Daniel well in his recovery. Daniel’s cousin Matthew Keane came on to the wing with Matthew Kilpatrick moving to the centre.

Ballina were solid in their 1st scrum and immediately set their backs in motion with good handing and direct running testing the Instonians defence early on. The pressure was relieved however by a great jackal by Andrew McGrath who was playing at no 8 today. From the resultant line out Instonians launched a great backline attack which finished with Bevan Prinsloo breaking clear up the touch line and nearly providing a scoring pass.

14:37 – Ballina 0 - Instonians 0

Even at this early stage Instonians were putting pressure on the Ballina scrum and using their line out to attack out wide. When they got a penalty in front of the posts just 30 metres out they declined the easy 3 points on offer and kicked to the corner for a line out 15 metres out. The large Instonian travelling support were not surprised to see the driving maul come into play but Ballina did well to stop the try and when Instonians moved the ball wide they lost the ball in the tackle and the chance was gone.

14:48 – Ballina 0 - Instonians 0

The pattern of the game was clear by the end of the 1st evenly contested quarter. Both sides wanted to move the ball at every opportunity. Instonians were dominant in the scrums and effective in the line out too but Ballina were smart and looked to play the game at a high tempo with their back line and in particular their 13 looking threatening and testing the Instonian defence which held firm.

Following successive scrum penalties to Instonians Ballina decided not to engage off the line outs so preventing Instonians using their impressive driving maul and giving them something to think about.

14:57 – Ballina 0 - Instonians 5

The penalty count was continuing in Instonians favour and they were now calling 4 and 5 man line outs and moving the ball off the top and testing the Ballina defence.

Then quick thinking from Mark Mairs when he took a quick tap from another penalty to Instonians and set in motion a great passage of play when he fed Matthew Keane and then good hands and support runners resulted in Bevan Prinsloo breaking free up the left touchline and this time the Ballina defence could not stop him as he dived over in the far left hand corner. Jonathan Milliken could not convert from the touchline but Instonians had opened their account.

14.59 – Ballina 0 - Instonians 5

From the restart Instonians were penalised for not releasing giving Ballina a penalty on Instonians 10 metre line and a chance to narrow the gap but the 10 missed to the left of the posts.

The conditions remained perfect for running rugby with very little wind and dry overhead. Instonians were continuing to move the ball wide but on several occasions they lost the ball forward in the tackle against a resolute and determined Ballina defence.

Ballina in turn looked to run the ball at every opportunity and the 13 continued threaten to break through the Instonian defence.

15.04 – Ballina 0 - Instonians 12

Following yet another ball lost forward when Instonians were running it from deep, Ballina had a great position with a scrum on the left touchline on the Instonian 22 metre line but not for the 1st time this season (or last season for that matter) the powerful Instonian scrum attacked the Ballina put in and marched them backwards to get yet another scrum penalty.

From the resultant line out on their own 10 metre line Instonians move the ball left and then back right and great handling of the ball at pace was finished by a nice transfer from Matthew Keane to the supporting Mark Mairs on his right who made good ground deep into the Ballina 22 metre line and then a terrific inside overhead pass to Ruari O’Farrell running a great inside support line to score. A fabulous try and a touch of class from Mark Mairs. Jonathan Milliken added the extras and Instonians now had some breathing space.

Ballina came straight back at Instonians hoping to close the gap before half time but the pressure was relieved by a great jackal from Mark Mairs. From the penalty and resulting line out Mark Mairs was impeded in the air and another penalty followed.

There was still time for the Ballina 13 to make another break but yet another Instonian penalty at the break down relieved the pressure and Instonians closed out the half.

HALF TIME – Ballina 0 - Instonians 12

Both sides would have been relatively happy at half time with Instonians dominant at scrum time, the line out functioning well and getting a lot of joy at the breakdown. Ballina for their part were still in the game at just 12-0 down and continued to threaten with ball in hand and were on the whole defending well. You did feel however that the next score was crucial.

15.23 – Ballina 0 - Instonians 19

Ballina kicked off long into the Instonian 22 but a great return kick from Matthew Keane was knocked on by one of the Ballina back three giving Instonians a scrum on the Ballina 10 metre line on the right hand side of the pitch.

Off a good scrum Instonians moved the ball left and back right and then at the resultant ruck Instonians scrum-half Rhys O’Donnell produced his trademark “show and go” and went over without a hand being laid on him. Jonathan Milliken added the extras and Instonians had the crucial score early in the second half. You felt it was a long way back now for Ballina.

15.27 – Ballina 0 - Instonians 26

Instonians were now enjoying their best period in the match with great continuity between forwards and backs stretching the Ballina defence and following another Instonian penalty they kicked for a line out on the Ballina 22 metre line and following a driving maul Andrew McGrath made a good break and fed the supporting Matthew Keane to touch down to the right of the posts for the bonus point try . Jonathan Milliken added the extras and Instonians were out of sight now.

15.32 – Ballina 7 - Instonians 26

The strength in depth of this Instonian squad and the pack in particular was evident from the next substitution as the excellent Paul Pritchard was replaced in the back row by Ali Burke who has had such a good season so far.

Again Matthew Keane’s left boot resulted in a great return from Ballina’s kick off bringing play up to the Ballina 10 metre line.

Ballina to their credit however showed great character and resilience and continued to attack whenever they could. From their line out on the Instonian 22 metre line on the left hand side of the pitch they had their own driving maul which made some ground before they released the ball right and then pick and goes back left again showing good patience and composure to move the ball under the posts where they got over the whitewash and opened their account.

15.37 – Ballina 7 - Instonians 33

Instonians came roaring back however and a great break by Ali Burke from just outside his own 22 metre line straight up the middle of the pitch took him into Ballina territory and found Rhys O’Donnell on his inside who side stepped his way to just outside the Ballina 22 metre line and Ballina were forced to concede another penalty.

Instonians kicked to the corner just 15 metres from the line and their driving maul this time took them over the line with hooker Neil Saulters scoring his 8th try of the league campaign in only 4 games all of which have been from driving mauls. A great touchline conversion from Jonathan Milliken stretched the lead to 26 points with only a quarter of the game to go.

Instonians made a few changes at this stage with Bevan Prinsloo coming off and the versatile Mark Mairs moving from the back row to the wing. There was also a nice moment when Rhys Davidson joined his brother Zak on the pitch in an AIL game for the first time. A proud moment for their dad Craig amongst the travelling support.

The impressive duo of Andrew McGrath and Neil Saulters also came off at this stage and it was Neil’s replacement Conor Gallagher who was involved in the only controversial moment of the game seconds after coming on the pitch. Conor got his 1st ever red card of his career when he was adjudged to have tip tackled a Ballina player at a ruck.

From the resultant penalty under the Instonians posts Ballina took a tap penalty but it was well defended by Paul Pritchard and Instonians had a great 7 man scrum from which they moved the ball right and got another penalty at the next breakdown to relieve the pressure.

15.52 – Ballina 12 - Instonians 33

Ballina were now looking to use the extra man and were running the ball at every opportunity and while Instonians were defending well they were being stretched. Eventually the persistence of Ballina resulted in a try on the right hand side of the pitch with very good hands putting the extra man in for a try from the right winger in the corner. The conversion was missed.

15.59 – Ballina 19 - Instonians 33

Matthew Keane then went off having accidentally got a finger in his eye meaning Mark Mairs had to go straight back on the wing having only just come off. Ballina continued to apply pressure and with 2 minutes to go gave themselves a shot at a losing bonus point by scoring a 3rd try when following a succession of backline attacks a penalty 5 metres out saw them get over the line in the far left hand corner. A great touchline conversion added the extra points.

As Ballina went all out to get the 4th try and a losing bonus point Ali Burke ripped the ball away from them and then it was fitting that the 1st 50-22 kick of the league campaign for Instonians was from Mark Mairs. This gave Instonians a great position with a line out in the Ballina 22 but the shrill blast of the referee’s whistle signaled that time was actually up.

FULL TIME – Ballina 19 - Instonians 33

This was mission accomplished for Instonians so far with their 4th successive bonus point win but as with the Bangor game they will come away with plenty to work on. They are still losing a lot of ball in the backline when they go into contact and even though they were hampered by the red card for the last quarter of the match they probably could still have managed the game better from a position of 33-5.

On the flip side you simply have to give great credit to a young energetic Ballina side who never gave up and played an entertaining brand of rugby. They lost 11 players from last season and keep producing their own young talent which they then try to hang on to. Their first win cannot be too far away and we wish then well for the rest of the season and look forward to reciprocating the hospitality later in the season.

MOM today simply had to come from the Instonian back row today of Paul Pritchard, Andrew McGrath and Mark Mairs and for the touch of class with the overhead inside pass which set up a try and then the 50-22 in the last minute it goes to the versatile Mark Mairs.

Next week Instonians renew friendships and rivalries with Sunday’s Well in Cork on Saturday 5 November. One game at a time is the message and still plenty to improve on.

We appreciate Cork is a far distance to travel to but would be great to see another good Instonian support on the road.

November 5 AIL 5 Sunday's Well (A)
. 12 AIL 6 Bruff (H)
. 19 . .
. 26 AIL 7 Clonmel (A)
December 3 AIL 8 Midleton (H)
. 10 AIL 9 Omagh (A)
. 17 C2 5 Belfast Harlequins (H)
. 24 . .
. 31 . .
2023 . . .
January 7 S Cup 1 Belfast Harlequins (H)
. 14 AIL 10 Omagh (H)
. 21 AIL 11 Midleton (A)
. 28 AIL 12 Clonmel (H)
 
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